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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript - Sexual Assault in the Military


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CROWLEY: Joining me are two congresswomen who are also Iraq war veterans, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. Congresswomen, thank you so much for joining us.


CROWLEY: You heard as we came into this section from our military leaders for more than a decade this has been a problem. And it is only increasing. We saw where reported rapes are up, the number of people who don't report them but say they have been at least the victims of unwanted sexual contact. What's wrong here?

DUCKWORTH: It's absolutely unacceptable, Candy. I want the military to be a place where women can succeed and thrive the way I was able to. And the military leadership at this point has shown that they have not been capable of fixing this problem.

CROWLEY: Not only that, but not been capable for a decade plus.

GABBARD: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: So there's no more excuses.

GABBARD: There is no excuses. It's not enough just to say this is not something we'll stand for, we'll hold these people accountable unless you're providing a system and process to actually do that. And I think there are two things we really need to look at. What is the core reason why this hasn't really gotten better over the years? One being we have to make sure it's a victim-centered response from the moment that the victim makes that report all the way through to the point where the perpetrator is prosecuted, and charged and punished. And secondly, making sure that we are investigating those who are retaliating and abusing their positions of command or power.

CROWLEY: A huge number of women who said they did report said they also felt retaliation career wise or otherwise.

DUCKWORTH: This issue is a power issue, it's not a sex issue. It's a power issue. And we have to empower --

CROWLEY: In a culture that's built on power and rank.

DUCKWORTH: It is. But, you know, the military, because it's built on power and rank, has the ability to fix it based on that same tradition of power and rank. Commanders can put an end to this. And I am very, very disturbed that they have not been able to do this. Look, we're both still serving. We're taking the courses and the classes the military is mandating. Something is breaking down between the coursework that's happening and the education that's happening and what actually happens when somebody reports a problem. And that's where we need to be fixed. Because after 10 years, you have not solved the problem, done. We need to do something and we need to come up with a different system.

CROWLEY: Did you see or feel or know anything within this culture when you were serving?

GABBARD: I mean it has existed. And it's hard to be in the military without being aware of it. During my first deployment to Iraq there was a heightened state of awareness because of incidences that were rising in the camp where we were. And we were trained and briefed at our level as soldiers on things to be aware of, you know, travel in battle buddy teams, don't walk out alone even on the camp where theoretically you should be safe.

CROWLEY: Where your colleagues are.

GABBARD: Exactly.

CROWLEY: Did you feel it? I mean do you know? I mean it just seems that the culture somehow seems ripe for this in a way that's kind of inexplicable.

DUCKWORTH: I think my experience was a little bit different in that I was an officer. Your first tour you were an e-4. So the rank structure was a little bit different. So I had a lot more power that came with me and I was able to exercise that. This goes back to empowering the female service members to stand up, to know that when they speak up that they will be listened to and they will be treated fairly. CROWLEY: How do you do that?

GABBARD: These predators seek out people who are weak targets.


GABBARD: I was not a weak target. So it's not something I experienced personally. However, my command was one that was -- that did create this safe climate for people to be able to make those kinds of reports. But you can't make it based on, you know, the personalities or the strengths or weaknesses of any specific commander, which is why the system has to be one that is safe, transparent and fair holding people accountable.

CROWLEY: So what is evident is that people are afraid to report. And what's being reported isn't being dealt with at a great percentage. Tell me a couple of key things that must happen. Because it sounds to me that both of you have lost faith in the military justice system being able to handle this.

DUCKWORTH: Right. And, you know, Candy, I am an absolute supporter of the UCMJ, the uniform code of military justice and the commander, having been a commander and at times I was the only woman in an all-male unit being a commander that has full commander authority over your unit. But I think at this point in this instance of military sexual trauma, military sexual assault, the military has shown it's not capable of fixing this problem.

CROWLEY: This is a big deal in the military, Congresswoman Gabbard, to take something out of the chain of command. That is the holy grail of military life.

GABBARD: Right. This is serious because you're talking about the commander, right? Someone who has the ability to have that trust and confidence of their unit in them and their ability to lead and command and have that power, but understanding that this is something that falls outside of that realm and also something that requires a check and balance so that there is not a single person who will be in a position to abuse that power that they have been entrusted with, which is huge. You're taking care of soldiers, you're taking care of service members. And having that independent investigative body as well as having someone outside the chain of command who doesn't have the power -- the commander should not have the power to overturn a jury's verdict.

DUCKWORTH: In these serious cases like this.

GABBARD: Exactly.

DUCKWORTH: And, again, this goes back, Candy, to I think -- I've been a supporter of the system -- of the UCMJ until this point. But this is such an aberration, this is so horrendous, this is absolutely so (INAUDIBLE) unacceptable that it's time to take a next very serious step.

CROWLEY: So by serious steps, a, this chain of command thing that there would be -- you would no longer take a complaint of sexual advancement. Let's say a good number of these are men as well.

DUCKWORTH: Right. Almost half...


CROWLEY: Nonetheless, you could take this. You don't take this to your commander, you take this to an outside independent review still within the military and the commander could not overturn --

GABBARD: The outcome of the investigation or the outcome of the judicial process. CROWLEY: And if you are found in the military to be guilty of sexual assault, unwanted sexual contact, rape, whatever degree you want, should you be thrown out of the military?

DUCKWORTH: Yes. It would be a serious -- if you're found guilty of rape or sexual assault, you should be thrown out. That's a serious charge.

GABBARD: Dishonorable discharge.


GABBARD: Something that will stick with this person for the rest of their lives. It doesn't just stick to military career, any other job they try to get in the civilian world this will be on their record.

DUCKWORTH: If try to get a federal job, if they try to get a state job that will be there.

GABBARD: That's right.

CROWLEY: So let me ask you as a last question. We have this incident where an air force officer who is in charge of the sexual assault unit was arrested himself for sexual assault. We know nothing's been proven yet. Your first reaction to hearing that news?

DUCKWORTH: I just --

GABBARD: Shocked.

DUCKWORTH: Nightmare. This is -- it's a betrayal of trust.

GABBARD: That's right.

DUCKWORTH: It's a betrayal. The military has said, we're going to fix this problem. And we've seen the military try to fix this problem because we serve. And yet you appointed someone who is supposed to be fixing a problem who is a perpetrator, who is a predator. And this is not acceptable.

GABBARD: Completely undermines that trust that Tammy's talking about.


GABBARD: The trust that we're trying to build with this climate of understanding that you can safely go and report when you've been a victim of a heinous crime. And this really undermines whatever progress has been made over time.

CROWLEY: So, you know, discipline, honor, country, all of those things seem to me betrayed - and again taking away not been yet convicted of anything.

DUCKWORTH: Right. CROWLEY: But it just seems this seems to be a bad thing to do in society, but in the military --

DUCKWORTH: This is a betrayal. This is not only a crime against the victim, this is a betrayal to your unit, this is a betrayal to your nation. It is a betrayal to the entire structure. And that is simply not acceptable because I want women to serve. As women rise through the ranks because we now can serve in combat, we're going to get more women in leadership positions and I hope that will help as well.


DUCKWORTH: But, you know, this just has to be stamped out now.

CROWLEY: All right.

GABBARD: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: First things you all say is take it out of the chain of command and second of all nobody can overturn the conviction.

GABBARD: And having that victim-centered response.


GABBARD: I think that's critical from start to finish making sure that that culture is there, that safe and transparent and accountable.

CROWLEY: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Tammy Duckworth, thank you for being here. Come back. We'll keep track of this.

DUCKWORTH: Thank you.

GABBARD: Aloha. Thank you.


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